Friday, February 16, 2024

concert review

Nearly fourteen years ago, I reviewed a Paganini concerto with a staggeringly talented fourteen-year-old boy named Stephen Waarts as soloist.

Yesterday, I heard him again at Herbst: in his late twenties, very tall, and playing Janáček's gnarly First Violin Sonata from memory (Juho Pohjonen, pianist). But the principal attraction of the evening was a pair of piano trios (Jonathan Swensen, cellist) by composers who were themselves teenagers at the time they wrote them: Dmitri Shostakovich's, which was incipiently modernist, and César Franck's, which was stealthy and hypnotic. This weirdly attractive piece (Op. 1 No. 1 in F-sharp minor) ought to be heard more often, or, indeed, at all. (Music@Menlo has just announced this year's festival, which is focused on French music but includes no Franck whatever. What were they thinking?)

Arriving in the Herbst lobby over an hour before showtime, I was genially accosted by an elderly woman in a wheelchair who wanted to talk at me incessantly. She was interesting enough, and even asked permission to follow me over when I went to sit on a bench, so I welcomed her company. She told me that she'd once been engaged to sing Tosca at La Scala, but canceled to return to the States to take care of her ailing mother. She told me this several times. She was also frantically looking through the plastic bags of stuff in her lap for her misplaced credit card. I suggested that she spread the stuff out on the bench to make it easier to look. This worked and she was grateful. Then she went off to buy a ticket and then came back. Not sure if she'd ever stop talking, at least if she had me to talk to, when the hall opened I pointed her towards the wheelchair seating and went myself off down some steps. Phew.

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